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Life on the line

15 September 2017

BBC/Drama Republic/Sam Barker

Overdramatised: the drama series Dr Foster returned for a second series last week, in which Suranne Jones plays GP Gemma Foster (BBC1, Tuesday of last week)

Overdramatised: the drama series Dr Foster returned for a second series last week, in which Suranne Jones plays GP Gemma Foster (BBC1, Tuesday of last...

Trump’s War on the Border (Channel 4, Monday of last week) explored what those who live along the 2000-mile line that separates the US from Mexico think about the President’s plan — and found a more complex picture than might be imagined.

Of course, many are desperate to find a way to keep out what they see as hordes of aliens, bringing with them a flood of drugs and criminality. The border patrols seem generous and humane in the way they apprehend and turn back illegal immigrants; but citizens who feel that the authorities do not do nearly enough form their own bands of vigilantes, armed to the teeth and sporting quasi-military uniforms.

Other volunteers, appalled by the government policy that they blame for the deaths from dehydration of more than 2500 immigrants, set up wayside dumps of clean water. One Republican rancher deplores the wall: he considers that the district should be considered as a unitary border country, and that the way to deal with the undoubted tsunami of narcotics is to reduce the insatiable US demand rather than, hopelessly, seek to stop it getting in.

The programme was clearly liberal in attitude, but did not propose a resolution: rather, it focused valuably on one particular and acute flashpoint and its problems.

An unwelcome return linked two quite different series that were launched last week. Dr Foster (BBC1, Tuesday) is a second series following up the fortunes of the GP Gemma Foster. Two years after she exposed her husband’s adultery, embezzlement, and violence, all their friends and neighbours are invited to a party to celebrate his return to the neighbourhood and his marriage.

Only Dr Foster sees anything problematic in this. How can he afford his new mansion? Will everyone else really follow his prompting that it is time to “move on”? Surely his every move and utterance expose him as a world-class manipulator? Why does a woman of Gemma’s supposed intelligence put every single foot wrong in response to his plot? Only the final moment, in which her beloved son chooses to leave her and move in with his dad, touches a chord of genuine despair.

David Mitchell and Robert Webb pair up again in Back (Channel 4, Wednesday of last week): here, the returnee is Mitchell’s foster brother turning up for their father/foster father’s funeral. They develop the splendid roles honed on Peep Show: Mitchell clever but crippled by incompetence and indecision; Webb a shallow chancer, invariably popular and successful.

Within half an hour Webb has supplanted the genuine son; and Mitchell is clearly going to lose out on every bit of his rightful inheritance. The funeral itself turns upside down every cliché about bereavement and loss.

It is all deliciously excruciating, and, to my mind, this black farce contains more truth about the human situation than all Dr Foster’s overdramatised solemnities.

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